23 September 2017

Cookbook Club!

A few months ago, I started a cookbook club at my new library. My supervisor suggest I start a nonfiction book club and a cookbook club seemed like a natural fit, considering my own interests and the patron base I was working with. I'm not sure cookbook clubs are quite on trend, anymore, but registration has maxed out every month and everyone who actually turns up has been really happy to be there and shown great creativity with their dishes.

The requirements are simple:
  1. Make a dish fitting the month's theme using a library cookbook
  2. Make copies of your recipe to share
  3. On the appointed day, at the appointed time, bring your dish and copies to the library
  4. Discuss your dish and the cookbook you used with fellow club goers
  5. Eat
The club started in July and so far we've done "Fresh Cooking with Local Produce" in June, "Cool & Refreshing Summer Salads" in July, and "Picnic Foods: Dishes to Make & Take" in August. September is "Fall Flavors," but with the hot weather we've been having and the general weirdness of the growing season, I really think it's a bit early for fall flavors. Well, that's what I get for setting the schedule three months in advance!

"Spring Coleslaw" from Cooking from the Garden: Best Recipes from Kitchen Gardener

Since I'm working, I need dishes that can be prepared in advance and then happily left alone in the fridge or on the countertop until serving. So far, I've made a spring slaw, a Middle Eastern vegetable salad, and a tray of s'more brownies. I think the slaw was the best of the three, but the brownies did not last the evening so clearly dessert is something to bring more often.

"Middle Eastern Vegetable Salad" from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa, How Easy Is That?

However, I am not bringing dessert this month. No, I found the perfect way to use some of my scarily huge beets! I made beet hummus from Cara Mangini's The Vegetable Butcher. It's a really simple, straight-forward recipe with only five ingredients. Just wrap the beets in foil and roast them, scrape the skin off when they're cool enough to handle, and blend with salt, lemon juice, tahini, and olive oil until smooth. Adjust the seasoning to taste -- this is important as the recipe as published is a bit bland, imho. The finished hummus keeps in the fridge for five days and is simply beautiful to look at. If you like beets, I really recommend giving this recipe a try.


Roasted beet "hummus" from The Vegetable Butcher

Can't wait to see what everyone else brings to the meeting -- "Cool Weather Comfort: Soups, Stews, & Bread" in October!



21 September 2017

Baba Ghanoush

Last week, I brought home two beautiful inky-purple eggplants from the CSA. I usually avoid cooking eggplant, because I don't have much experience with it and find it intimidating. But part of the point of joining a CSA was to experience new fruits and vegetables and extend out the borders of my culinary comfort zone. And, thus, eggplant in my kitchen.

Way back in the stone age, we'd served baba ghanoush at our wedding reception and, while I hadn't eaten it since, I remember really liking it. But now I had two eggplants -- which meant I had one backup eggplant if the first batch was terrible -- so why not try to make my own baba ghanoush? I looked at a few recipes and decided to go with Betty Crocker's "Baba Ghanoush" as it was very straight forward and used ingredients I already had on hand.

Basically, you roast eggplant and chickpeas in the oven until the chickpeas are shrunken and golden and the eggplant is worryingly charred. The chickpeas will cook faster than the eggplant, so even though you're using a timer, it's good to check on them regularly.


Once the eggplant has cooled enough to handle, you'll scoop the flesh from the eggplant and whiz it around in your food processor with the chickpeas, lemon juice, garlic (I doubled the amount of garlic), black pepper, and tahini. The flesh of the eggplant may look rather unappetizing, but it will all turn out yummy.


Sprinkle the baba ghanoush with smoked paprika and serve. Pita chips are a very traditional accompaniment but I ate mine with pretzel squares, because that's what was in the cupboard. The recipe says it serves eight, but I'd say six is more likely.


Admittedly, I don't have much experience with the stuff, but I thought this recipe made really good baba ghanoush. It's creamy, garlicky, and slightly tangy-sweet. Definitely very moreish.

14 September 2017

Improv Cooking Challenge: Apples & Honey

September's Improv Challenge Cooking ingredients were apples and honey. Classic fall flavors, they'd usually inspire me to bake some variety of yumptious bundt cake, but ... it's still in the 80s here and very humid, making baking very much a NOPE.

So here's a simple, yet tasty, autumnal-ish salad. Featuring lots of whole grains, protein, healthy fats, and whatnot, it's rather healthy and you can feel righteous while you eat it (if that's your thing).


This salad is delicious as written, but I can see that it would also make a very good base for all sorts of variations, depending on what's in the pantry and fridge. For example, I think a combination of dried cranberries, hazelnuts, and chopped kale could be quite tasty!

Quinoa Apple Salad

Yield: 2

Ingredients

  • 4 oz cooked quinoa, cooled
  • 2 oz baby spinach, chopped
  • 1 oz walnuts, chopped
  • 1 oz dried tart cherries, chopped
  • 3 oz cored, chopped Granny Smith apple
  • ½ oz shallot, minced
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp runny apple blossom honey [or your favorite variety]
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Combine cooked quinoa, spinach, walnuts, cherries, apple, and shallot in a large serving bowl.
  2. Whisk together oil, vinegar, and honey in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Pour dressing mixture over quinoa mixture; toss to coat. Adjust seasoning as needed.
  4. Best if allowed to rest for 20 minutes before serving. (If refrigerating, allow to come to room temperature before serving.)

While this makes a lovely light vegetarian lunch all on its own, feel free to add crumbled feta cheese (and/or sliced grilled chicken breast if you do meat) to make it more filling for larger appetites. One serving on its own at lunch kept me going until supper, but then I found I did need to add a little chicken to keep me going through the evening shift.


For anyone new to my blog, the Improv Cooking Challenge is a monthly blog hop where two ingredients are assigned, participants must make a new-to-their-blog recipe using both ingredients, and publish a blog post about it on the second Thursday of the month. If you think that sounds like fun, click on the Improv Cooking Challenge logo below.




07 September 2017

Slow Cooker Caramelized Onions

The farm I get my CSA share from is experiencing a bumper crop of onions this year and I've been bringing bunch after bunch home. While I consider alliums the cornerstone of tasty cooking, even I was getting a bit tired of seeing so many onions in my kitchen. It would be one thing if I had an out-of-the-way hook to hang the bunches from or even a drawer to store them in, but I don't and thus they are just piled in a higgledy-piggledy heap in the darkest, coolest kitchen corner.

Which is usually fine, but my anxiety has been steadily ratcheting up lately and visual clutter -- the kitchen counters and dining room table, for example, constantly covered in the random flotsam of life -- is just making it that much worse. So I decided the onions needed to go.


My friend Sara had contributed slow-cooked caramelized onions to the grilled cheese and Secret Hitler party we threw a few weeks ago and that seemed like a brilliant way to use my CSA onions. While I didn't have her recipe, I did have a general understanding of how it should go and decided to wing it ... with very tasty results.

The onions cook long and slow all day, until they have reached golden brown perfection and the entire house smells amazing. While it's not fancy cooking -- not by a long shot -- the end result is so soft and nutty-sweet, who cares? And, hey, that was about a cubic foot of counter space now cleared.




Simple Slow Cooker Caramelized Onions

Ingredients

  • 3 lbs onions
  • 2 Tbsp butter, melted
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • ½ tsp freshly cracked pepper

Instructions

  1. Peel, cut in half, and thinly slice onions -- a food processor with slicing disc is very handy here.
  2. Toss sliced onions with the melted butter, salt, and pepper.
  3. Cook for 12 hours on low. The onions will be greatly reduced in volume, but swimming in liquid. Pour off the liquid and freeze for later use in soups or stews.

Three pounds of onions is just what I had on hand and it happened to fill my oval 3½ quart slow cooker. Obviously, adjust the amounts to suit the size of your slow cooker. Also, you could probably omit the butter. I used it because I had a mild concern the onions would burn to the bottom of the slow cooker before they started releasing liquid, but there was so much liquid in the end that it probably wasn't "necessary" to add butter.

So ... what do you do with all these onions? Well, so far, they've into cheddar and roast beef flatbreads, scrambled with eggs and spinach, and also acted as an excellent shortcut for browned onions in a tomato soup recipe ...

02 September 2017

My Successful Skincare Regimen May Actually Just Be Magical Thinking

The master bathroom medicine cabinet annoys me and I dream of replacing it, but it's one of those "it's only annoying twice a day and no-one else sees it" issues so I've done nothing about it for ten years. It's annoyingly shallow and the shelves are tooclosetogether to allow for storage of anything that is much taller than a deodorant stick. To fit my full size Clinique products, I actually took out a shelf. But, even then, I have to tilt the bottles at an angle to get them in or out. And, because of the way the bottoms of the shelves are gridded, the bottles can't go all the way to the back of the cabinet. Every time I open the medicine cabinet, it basically feels like Clinique's Acne Solutions products are preparing to leap out and assault my face.


I've never had "good" skin. Over the years, I've spent so much time in dermatologists' offices and so much money on prescriptions without ever seeing enough improvement to warrant the cost. I stopped seeing my most recent dermatologist well over a year ago now, when I accepted that no matter what concerns I brought to her, she just going to keep giving me scrips for antibiotics and samples of rosaccea meds.

Antibiotics are something I want to take because I am ill, not because I am constantly and painfully broken out. As for rosaccea, maybe I have it. Maybe, I don't. It's the painful, cystic acne that's always bothered me and the thing I most wanted to deal with.

But, you know, the last few years were also full of Butt Troubles and there were only so many battles I could fight. Basically, I stopped going to the dermatologist, bought a Clarisonic face brush with the Acne Cleansing Brush Head and Acne Daily Clarifying Cleanser. Also started using the Clinique Redness Solutions Soothing Cleanser, Daily Relief Cream, and makeup. My face did not get worse and, sometimes, it was even visibly better. Indeed, it got to the point where I might have two or three weeks of relatively "normal" looking skin followed by a week of terribly broken out, painful skin. And I thought I could live with that.

Then I survived the Butt Troubles and changed jobs and decided I wanted "normal" pain free skin all the time, goshdarnit. So I went to the Internets and read many things and then I went to the Clinique counter at Macy's and talked to a nice Polish woman who send me home with the Acne Solutions Clear Skin System Starter Kit. She would have sent me home with a bunch of other products, too, I think but she could see that I was already balking at using three products. (I'd had a bad experience with an Avon acne treatment system in my teens and had been giving toner the side eye ever since).

So I gave it a try. And it's worked. Enough so that I now buy the full size bottles of the three. I don't need to apply much at any one time, so they last for a quite while.


In the mornings, I cleanse my face with a squirt of Acne Solutions Cleansing Foam on the Clarisonic Acne Cleansing Brush Head and then pop in the shower. After, I moisturize with Redness Solutions Daily Relief Cream and apply cosmetics.

In the evenings, I remove my cosmetics with a bit of Take The Day Off Cleansing Balm, followed by tepid rinse, then a squirt of Acne Solutions Cleansing Foam on the Clarisonic Acne Cleansing Brush Head, another tepid rinse, a quick dab of Acne Solutions Clarifying Lotion with a cotton ball, and then a very light coat of Acne Solutions All-Over Clearing Treatment. I cannot use the Clarifying Lotion and Clearing Treatment more than once a day or my face gets super itchy so I save them for bedtime, when I'm not going to be wearing cosmetics over them (because it seems weird to me to put cosmetics on after them, anyway).

I also have a wee bottle of Origins Super Spot Remover Blemish Treatment Gel which I dab on any blemishes that look like they're edging toward angry and painful. I started using the gel after reading about it on several acne forums and, wow, it works well. A little dab is all I need once or twice a day.


tl;dr: I seldom have whiteheads, anymore, and I can't tell you the last time I experienced a nodular or cystic acne flareup. Yes, my skin still has a tendency to run towards red and blotchy and I'll never insta #nomakeup, but my face doesn't ever hurt. So, hooray, I don't feel like I'm locked in eternal battle with my skin, anymore, and I'm finally beginning to enjoy cosmetics.

(But ... I'm aware I may be engaging in magical thinking, that my clearer pain-free skin may be due to a number of factors out of my control like hormonal changes caused by a loss of fibroids and incipient perimenopause. But I don't know for certain, so I'll keep doing what I'm doing until it stops working).

31 August 2017

Easy Cheesy Cauliflower

Had ten people over for grilled cheese, cake, and Secret Hitler last weekend, you see, and bought enough cheese for fifteen. Or twenty. Probably, twenty. I clearly am not good at estimating cheese portions. On the other hand, if you enjoy cheese, I'm the woman to party with.

So, I had cheese. And I had cauliflower. Cauliflower cheese, please, said my greedy tummy and who was I to disagree?


If you make this dish, be sure to drain the cauliflower very well before adding the cheese mixture. I did not drain mine very well and the cauliflower cheese came out of the oven rather soupy. However, it did set up quite well as the dish cooled so ymmv.


Easy Cheesy Cauliflower

Yield: 4

Ingredients

  • 16 oz cauliflower florets
  • 2 Tbsp water
  • 4 oz cream cheese
  • 2 Tbsp heavy cream
  • 4 oz sharp cheddar, shredded or chopped into small pieces
  • 4 Gruyere slices
  • 1 Tbsp Italian seasoning blend
  • ½ Tbsp roasted garlic powder
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Put the cauliflower and water in a microwave safe bowl. Cover with cling wrap and microwave on high for 3-4 minutes or until tender. Drain well and set aside.
  3. Put the cream cheese, cream, and cheddar in a microwave safe bowl and cover. Microwave on medium about 2 minutes. Stir until smooth. Additional time may be needed if sauce remains lumpy.
  4. Stir in the seasonings. Add the drained cauliflower and gently stir until well coated. Top with the Gruyere and bake at 400°F for 15 minutes or until bubbly and golden.

This would also work with mix of cauliflower and broccoli as well as any semi-firm cheese, such as cheddar, Swiss, Fontina, or Jack.

23 August 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Cranesbill & Babbitty Bumble

“Zizz, Wizz, Wizzz!” Babbitty Bumble is busy with the cranesbill today.

17 August 2017

Spicy "Southwestern" Oven-Fried Chicken Breasts

Because I don't go in to work until quite late on Wednesday and Thursdays, but still get up at the crack of ohmygodwhattimeisitnooo to go to the gym I find I have extra time in the mornings to cook and so been making larger, fancier sit down lunches for the two of us. Not only does this make me look like an (even more) awesome, loving wife but it also means I'm not desperately hungry at supper time and have started running errands ... errands like visiting libraries I don't work at, because books.

Anyway, it was approaching lunch time and the fridge was full of odds-and-ends that needed using up before they spoilt. The guacamole and tomatoes were, in particular, edging toward spoilage with a determination that annoyed me until I looked at the calendar and properly calculated out just how long I'd had them on hand. Oops! And I thought, how can I take all these things and turn them into a meal that will please The Husband and empty out my fridge? Et voilà, spicy "Southwestern" oven-fried chicken breasts and roasted potatoes.




Spicy Oven-Fried Chicken Breasts

Yield: 4

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1 Tbsp Southwestern-esque seasoning blend
  • ¼ cup plain kefir
  • 1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 Tbsp butter, melted
  • 4 Tbsp shredded sharp cheddar
  • 4 Tbsp guacamole
  • 1 large tomato, seeded and chopped
  • 4 Tbsp chopped cilantro

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Line a half sheet pan with foil and brush with oil or spritz with cooking spray.
  2. Whisk together flour and seasoning in a pie plate or shallow soup bowl. In another pie plate, add kefir.
  3. Dip chicken in kefir. Coat evenly with flour mixture.
  4. Place chicken in single layer on foil-lined baking pan. Drizzle with melted butter.
  5. Bake 20 minutes or until chicken reaches 165°F.
  6. Sprinkle chicken with cheese and broil until melted.
  7. Plate chicken and serve garnished with guacamole, tomato, and cilantro.

I used Penzeys' salt-free "Salsa & Pico" seasoning blend, because I'd not realized I'd run out of the "Arizona Dreaming," but any salt-free taco or fajita seasoning blend you favor would work well.


I served the chicken with spicy roasted potatoes I made by tossing halved baby potatoes with olive oil and pico seasoning then roasting in the 425°F oven for 10 minutes, before adding the chicken, giving the potatoes a stir, and letting them roast until the chicken was done.

16 August 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Monstrous Beets

Needed a little help harvesting the beets! Left them too long and some are now the size of oranges!

14 August 2017

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware


Once there were four boarding school girls who did something terrible one night and then lied about it. Fifteen years later, the truth is finally coming to light. Will they stand together, united in their lie? Do they even really know what happened that night?

I enjoyed Ware's In A Dark Dark Wood very much and was really looking forward to The Lying Game. Overall ... it was okay. It's possible my expectations were too high, but I felt like The Lying Game started with so much promise and so many hints at a deep, rich story ... and then failed to follow through. The hints were never fleshed out. I never knew enough about Kate, Thea, or Fatima to really care about them and Isa, as narrator, was pretty shallowly etched, too. While I liked that The Lying Game was a slow-burning mystery, neither the characters nor the central mystery were enough to keep me invested in it and I kept putting it aside for other books.

I'm also (still and ridiculously, I know) grumpy that the girls didn't actually do a murder. As soon as I realized where the story was headed, all my enthusiasm evaporated. I think I wanted a brooding, atmospheric Gothic mystery, but what I got was ... underwhelming. Yes, there were secrets and lies and people died for love (or something) in big fire in a suitably Gothic structure, but I was not emotionally connected enough to any of it to care much. I just felt very ehhhh about the whole thing.

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware (Scout Press, 2017)

10 August 2017

Pasta With Roasted Leeks & Zucchini

I threw together this simple summer pasta dish one evening after gym when I happened to have a lot of CSA leeks and zucchini on hand and was too darn hungry to do anything fancy. The combination of pasta with sautéed pancetta, leeks, and zucchini is satisfyingly filling, but light, and serves well as either supper or lunch when paired with a peppery arugula salad dressed with balsamic.


Pasta With Roasted Leeks & Zucchini

Ingredients

  • 6 oz mini farfalle pasta
  • 4 oz diced pancetta
  • 2 large leeks, white & light green parts only, chopped
  • 8 oz zucchini, diced small
  • ¾ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • salt & freshly ground pepper, as needed

Instructions

  1. Cook pasta as directed.
  2. Heat nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add pancetta and cook until golden.
  3. Add leeks, zucchini, and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring often, until softened.
  4. Toss vegetables with pasta, season to taste, and serve.

Yield: 4


Sweet onion and any variety of summer squash can be used instead of the leeks and zucchini. You could also try bacon instead of pancetta for a smokier flavor.

09 August 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Hydrangea

Hydrangea macrophylla "Everlasting Revolution" blooming in the front garden. Love the combination of soft blue and pale green.

07 August 2017

The Hidden Blade


While The Hidden Blade is a prequel to Thomas's historical romance, My Beautiful Enemy, it is not at all a romance, but is straight up historical fiction set in late 1870s Europe and China. However, even without the romance, The Hidden Blade is a grand, sweeping story packed with lush descriptions, tons of historical detail, and compelling characters ... trust me, you're not going to miss the luv.

Ying-ying and Leighton's live are told in more or less parallel stories which, while linked by love of a mutual friend, come together all too briefly. Their individual coming of age stories are full of breathtaking tragedy and suffering. The small moments of happiness and peace are frequently followed by some new fresh hell. It's a novel to make you weep.

Yet, I loved this book. With determination and desire for a better life, Ying-ying and Leighton survive heartache and adversity to become characters worthy of an epic romance. I cannot wait to see what happens when they finally meet in My Beautiful Enemy.

The Hidden Blade by Sherry Thomas (NLA Digital LLC, 2014). Kindle edition.

03 August 2017

Zucchini Season: Cheesy Zucchini & Ham Bake

A glut of farmer's market and CSA summer squash has had me looking for new easy ways to use it up. I've noodled around with zoodles, but casseroles have really been my go-to. The original version of this particular casserole, "Ham and Zucchini Italiano," can be found in Taste of Home's Simple, Easy, Fast Kitchen which I received in the spring Taste the Seasons subscription box. While I've bookmarked a fair dozen recipes, this is the only one I've managed to make so far and I didn't even follow the recipe very well, so I doubt it counts!

You say zucchini, I say zucchinis. Zucchini. Zucchinis. Courgette!

I threw this dish together at 10 o'clock one night this week when I realized that, while I had nothing left to take for work meals, the pile of zucchinis on the kitchen side clearly meant I had no excuse to live off bagel sandwiches, either. Because it was late and I was tired, I altered the recipe to avoid sautéing the zucchini and dirtying an extra pot. The texture of the ribboned zucchinis, when combined and baked with the rest of the ingredients, was quite pleasant and the whole thing reminded me of a strata ... although, lacking egg and bread, it clearly wasn't a strata.

Whatever it is, I ate it all and am now eyeballing the remaining of the zucchinis.

Cheesy Zucchini & Ham Bake

Yield: 4

Ingredients

  • 3 6-inch zucchini
  • 1 tsp salt-free Italian seasoning blend
  • 8 oz ultra-thin sliced smoked deli ham
  • 14 oz jar pizza sauce
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Instructions

  1. Using the wide ribbon blade on your spiralizer, spiralize the zucchini into broad ribbons. Place in a colander, sprinkle liberally with salt, and let sit for 20 minutes or so.
  2. Preheat oven to 450°.
  3. Wrap zucchini ribbons in a clean tea towel and mercilessly squeeze until you've gotten out all the liquid or your hands are tired.
  4. Place half of the zucchini ribbons in a greased 9x13 baking dish. Sprinkle with salt-free Italian seasoning blend. Layer with half of the ham, pizza sauce, and cheese. Repeat layers.
  5. Bake, uncovered, 15 minutes or cheese is all melty and golden.

27 July 2017

Zucchini Season: Roast Them & Be Done

Slightly overwhelmed with vegetables these days! Indeed, between the garden and the CSA quarter-share, I feel neck deep in produce. Early this week, I decide to winnow down our bounty (and create a bunch of reheat-and-eat work meals) by roasting a bunch and then mixing the roasted vegetables with freezer pesto (from last year’s crop and still tasty as all get out) and cooked whole grain pasta.


To roast the vegetables, I simply filled a quarter sheet pan with everything I wanted to use up -- chopped zucchini, crookneck squash, and grape tomatoes -- added olive oil, salt and pepper, red pepper flakes, and roasted it at 400F until done. Then I combined the roasted veggies with three servings of cooked whole grain pasta, three cubes of freezer pesto, a squeeze of lemon, and some freshly grated parmesan. A healthy, filling (but not heavy) meal that reheated well.

24 July 2017

Taste of Home: Taste The Seasons Goodie Box: Spring

The spring Taste of Home Taste The Seasons subscription box arrived way long time ago now and I was so decidedly underwhelmed by it that I just packed it away until such a time came that I felt I could actually talk about it with some kind of enthusiasm. Which has not really happened, but the summer box arrived last week and, wow, I am a terrible blogger.

The spring Taste The Seasons box is just ... eh. Honestly, it feels like a collection of unrelated odds and ends -- as if someone was cleaning out the TOH junk drawer, dumped it in a box, and mailed it to me. I can see the TOH folks tried to tie the items together in the text of the insert -- "this honey is just what you need for the Asian Glazed Chicken Thighs" and "try it in place of Montreal Seasoning on the BBQ Chicken bites" -- but it's not enough. (Although, both recipes are easy and delish).

I'd probably be less annoyed if I hadn't completed, over the past year, multiple TOH surveys about the Taste the Seasons subscription box service. I feel I've been very clear about what I liked or didn't like and what I'd like to see more or less of. And then this arrives and I feel very nopenopeNOPE about the whole thing. I can only presume my feels are very different from those of everyone else who answered the surveys.


So. Some of the items are quite nice. I've already studded TOH's Simple, Easy, Fast Kitchen cookbook with sticky notes. Spice Sage seasoning blends are always a treat. And I'm not going to sneer at a wee jar of Dickinson's delicious golden honey.

But. More. Muffin huggin' metal cookie cutters. Just no, Taste of Home. You can't make me bake rolled cookies. Even if they would be shaped like a adorable bunnies and spring tulips.


As for the Brainstream beep-egg classic floating egg timer -- a plastic musical egg that sings when your eggs are done boiling -- it's kind-of a cute idea. It's very existence feels like a gentle German joke and I like that it sings different tunes for different boil levels but then I own a singing Japanese water boiler and rice cooker so, of course, I would find a singing egg timer cute. However, I am completely turned off by the thought of boiling a plastic-encapsulated battery.


Meh to the flimsy Taste the Season daily list magnetic pad. I've been using it as a regular shopping list/note pad and ignored all the hours printed on it because I already have an app, wall calendar, and daily planner book for organizing my life.

Also meh to the Tovolo silicone anchor breakfast shaper. I like the idea of breakfast shapers -- even own a set of Star Wars pancake molds. But. An anchor? For spring? Why not the bee and hive or ladybug and flower sandwich shapers? They are similarly priced and look much more seasonal.


Also a great big NOPE to the 11-piece measuring set. After having received OXO products in the three previous boxes, these molded plastic cups and spoons are a comedown. Also, I already own multiple (nicer) measuring sets, thus I have no need for these. (I've taken the measuring set and breakfast shaper to work where we'll find some use for them during crafternoons).

Overall, this box left me with mixed feelings. It wasn't seasonal enough and some of the items did not appeal to me at all. However, other items were exactly what I would have wished for. I don't know ... this box is best summed up with a shrug.

Read about my other (more pleasing) experiences with Taste the Seasons.

20 July 2017

Brie & Green Apple Flatbread

I had leftover brie and naan after making the "Berry & Balsamic Flabread" for July's Improv Cooking Challenge, so I thought I'd try another fruity flatbread, but this time I'd use apples. I happened to have an excess of green apples on hand -- bought them on a whim and have completely failed to eat them -- and I thought apples and brie would pair well together.


Despite becoming distracted by Kate Quinn's The Alice Network and over-baking the crust a bit, I thought this flatbread a worthwhile endeavor. It really is a great combination of textures and flavors and it goes together lickety-split, thus avoiding the impatient lunchtime hangries. (You also get the impatient lunchtime hangries, right? When you're so Oh.My.God.HUNGRY. that if you don't eat lunch ASAP you're going to go all Tasmanian Devil on people??)


Brie & Green Apple Flatbread

Yield: 1 small pizza

Ingredients

  • 1 small naan
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 oz brie, sliced thinly
  • 2 oz sliced cored green apple
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ oz baby arugula
  • Cider vinegar, as desired
  • Runny honey, as desired
  • Freshly cracked black pepper

Instructions

  1. Put your pizza stone in the oven and preheat the oven to 400° F.
  2. Brush the naan with olive oil. Layer naan with brie and apples. Sprinkle w/ cinnamon.
  3. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until the cheese has melted and the apple slices have softened.
  4. In a salad bowl, toss arugula with vinegar and honey.
  5. Scatter dressed arugula over the naan pizza and sprinkle with black pepper. Serve.

13 July 2017

Improv Cooking Challenge: Berries & Balsamic

July's Improv Challenge Cooking ingredients are the bright sweet-tart flavors of berries and balsamic. I decided to keep my dish simple and combined those with fresh herbs and cheese to make decidedly nontraditional pizza. I know warm cheese and berries might sound a little nope (The Husband would not eat this if it were the last thing left to eat on Earth), but it is a tasty savory-sweet combination I cannot get enough of.

A flatbread pizza requires cheese and I wanted to push the boat out, experience wise, and cook with something different. Generally, I'm a goat cheese or cheddar girl, with brief forays into the blues, so I thought I'd try Brie this time around. I'd eaten Brie before -- part of a cold mixed cheese platter with fruits and nuts -- and been underwhelmed by it, but I've read Brie is the "queen of cheeses" so maybe I should give it another try? Maybe, it would taste better warm?

And it did. Warm Brie, imho, is good. Cold Brie -- at least the unknown Brie I'd eaten before and the one I used in this flatbread -- are just kind of mushroomy and blech. But warm Brie ... warm Brie is soft, creamy yumminess. Especially paired with balsamic vinegar and sweet berries.

In short, this flatbread, with its great mix of flavors and textures, is absolutely delicious and so dead easy to put together that you could eat one every day.


Berry & Balsamic Flatbread

Yield: 1 small pizza

Ingredients

  • 1 small naan
  • 1 tsp garlic olive oil
  • ⅛ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 oz Brie, sliced
  • 3 oz mixed blueberries and blackberries
  • ½ oz baby arugula
  • ½ Tbsp blackberry balsamic vinegar
  • Freshly cracked black pepper

Instructions

  1. Put your pizza stone in the oven and preheat the oven to 400° F.
  2. Brush the naan with olive oil and sprinkle with red pepper flakes. Layer naan with Brie and berries. Scatter with thyme.
  3. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until the cheese has melted and the berries have softened.
  4. Scatter arugula over the naan pizza, drizzle balsamic vinegar over all, and sprinkle with black pepper. Serve.

If you don't have pizza stone, then just preheat your oven and prep and bake your flatbread on a baking sheet. For the longest time, I thought pizza stones were just pretentious tomfoolery for home cooks, but then I inherited one from my mom and ... homemade pizza is better on a pizza stone. And anything you might usually wrap in foil or parchment and bake on a sheet pan can be baked on a pizza stone. Also, a pizza stone bakes up beautifully crusty "artisanal" loaves. So it's multipurpose. And, since you can just leave it on the bottom rack of your oven all the time, don't worry about storage space ...


For anyone new to my blog, the Improv Cooking Challenge is a monthly blog hop where two ingredients are assigned, participants must make a new-to-their-blog recipe using both ingredients, and publish a blog post about it on the second Thursday of the month. If you think that sounds like fun, click on the Improv Cooking Challenge logo below.




01 July 2017

A Pirate's Life for ... Peas?

When I planted the vegetable beds in May, I planted a row of "Little SnapPea Crunch" sugar snap peas -- a compact plant with self-supporting vines well-suited to containers -- with the expectation they would grow into a stout hedge of deliciousness. Alas, my peas were rambling peas. The plants grew up, yes, but then went wide, entangling the orderly rows of beets, lettuce, and bush beans I had planted alongside them.


I put up my pea fence -- the fence I expected to not need this year -- and tied them back. But. Wild and wily, they keep escaping the pea fence and are currently climbing down the side of their raised bed, dead set on conquering the neighboring tomato/pumpkin/pepper bed. I am both immensely amused by their feral liveliness and exhausted. Stay on your fence, peas. Stop trying to pirate the other beds.

You might think, with all that prolific growth, that the plants would have no energy or time to fruit. You would be wrong. Completely and utterly wrong. The snap pea harvest is in its heyday and I find I need to pick a cake pan's worth every day just to keep up. Harvesting the peas, of course, means the plants get busy making more and ... it's just a vicious, delicious cycle, isn't it?


Sugar snap peas, you are so fine. So delightfully crunchy and sweet straight from the vine. Plump little green crescents of joy. Just keep your tendrils out of the lawn, less the lawnmower get you.

29 June 2017

Easy Carrot & Bok Choy Stir-Fry

It's nearly time to pick up this week's CSA share and there's a limit to how much more stuff I can get in the fridge so ... time to cook with bok choy! I hadn't cooked with full-grown bok choy (aka pak choi) before, but I figured it couldn't be that different from cooking baby bok choy -- probably just more chopping.

I decided to keep the dish simple because it was my first time (so why complicate things) and (more importantly) I was making it in the ROAWR! HUNGRY time between gym and work, when the longer I delay eating, the more likely I am to abruptly consume a whole bunch of (ultimately unfulfilling) random and then be very, very cranky with myself.


So. Bok choy stir-fry. With matchstick carrots, because why not? And lots of alliums, because alliums make everything (savory) better.


Easy Carrot & Bok Choy Stir-Fry

Yield: 2 generous servings

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 oz chopped sweet onion
  • ½ oz chopped garlic
  • 2 garlic scapes, chopped
  • 4 oz matchstick-cut carrots
  • 1 tablespoon ginger paste
  • 1 large head bok choy, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp coconut aminos
  • Salt and red pepper flakes, as desired

Instructions

  • Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, and ginger and cook, stirring often, until pan is very fragrant.
  • Add bok choy, carrots, and soy sauce. Cook, stirring often, until greens are wilted and stalks are crisp-tender.
  • Season to taste.


Because I knew a big bowl of stir-fried vegetables was not enough to satisfy the ROAWR! HUNGRIES, I topped my bowl with grilled shrimp skewers. I'd never grilled shrimp before (today was a day of new things!) but the Internets told me to grill them 4 minutes per side or until pink so that's what I did and they were quite delish. A wee bit too peppery as I was heavy-handed with the seasoning blend I used, but definitely something I'd make again.

Now I just need to sort out the kohlrabi. It's just so weird looking, though. Like a mutant Pikmin.

28 June 2017

Wordless Wednesday: At Walnut Hill Park Rose Garden






Roses in bloom at the Walnut Hill Park Rose Garden in New Britain. The Garden was first built in 1929 along Grand Street, but was relocated to the World War I Memorial when garden restoration began in 2009. Walnut Hill Park itself was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted Sr.

26 June 2017

The Summer Before The War


Simonson's Major Pettigrew's Last Stand (link to review) remains one of my favorite novels of all time, so it's a little surprising that it's take me this long to get around to her recent The Summer Before the War. To be fair, my thinking went: I was a little worried that TSBTW couldn't compare to MPLS and I would be disappointed and so if I never read TSBTW then I couldn't be disappointed, right?

Silly, silly woman. The Summer Before the War was an excellent read. One of those delightful books I want to press into the hands of everyone I know and inflict upon book clubs. I even (rather desperately) want someone to make a film adaptation à la Merchant Ivory Productions.

It's sweet and witty and sad and just so fucking CHARMING. If you've ever wanted an Anne Shirley, Downtown Abbey, World War I mashup ... this is the book for you. Am I wrong to have imagined Beatrice Nash as a Friend of Anne? A well-educated, young teacher who believes in woman's equal place and making the world better through good(ish) works? Fiercely independent, eminently competent, and yet a little lonely and desperate for bosom companions?

Okay, so I WAS completely smitten with Beatrice. But it's the kind of novel full of interesting characters who are very difficult not to fall at least a little in love with. The only characters I can say I did not like were Mrs Fothergill, (an odious woman), the landlady (ditto) and the Professor (because SPOILERS, but trust me).

Lest you think this book is all sweet and gentle fluff, I will point out that quite a lot of it is about women's rights and class structure. Beatrice can't look after her inheritance, because she is an unmarried lady. She almost loses her job, because she is too attractive. She can't publish her fathers letters, because she is a woman and, therefore, has no authorial authority. Who she dines with, what books she reads, which students she gives extra help to, how much she spends on ladies' incidentals ... Beatrice is judged for all these things and one imprudent choice could cost her her living and place in society.

And then the war happens and so much changes. And so much doesn't. Because People.

I listened to The Summer Before the War on CD, read by Fiona Hardingham. Hardingham did an excellent job distinguishing between the different characters and classes, giving them each their own unique voice so that I was never confused about who was speaking. She also brought appropriate wit and emotion to every scene, giving the the story great immediacy. She made me laugh. She made me cry. She made me sit in my garage for an extra three minutes, because I couldn't bear to not hear just a little bit more.

Definitely recommended.

The Summer Before the War written by Helen Simonson & read by Fiona Hardingham (Random House Audio, 2016)

24 June 2017

Summer's Bounty Crustless Quiche

I signed up for my very first CSA and have been excitedly counting down to June 23, when I could pick up my first share. The farm I use provides quarter, half, and full share subscriptions. Because The Husband doesn't enjoy eating many vegetables, I went with a quarter-share which is intended to feed one person for a week. Well ...

I'm sure it does. Problem is, I also acquired a friend's full share from different farm, because she just couldn't get to it this week. It's a one-time thing and, while I'm truly thankful for all the extra produce, I'm also thankful I hadn't signed up for a half or full share because I'm a little overwhelmed as it is!



What was in my combined CSA?

  • 1 pint + 1 quart of strawberries
  • 1 large bunch of pak choi (bok choy)
  • 2 large bunches of kale
  • 1 kohlrabi
  • 1 large head of romaine
  • 1 large bunch baby spinach
  • 3 garlic scapes
  • 1 large bunch red radishes
  • 1 large bunch white radishes
  • 1 thyme plant
  • 2 ears of popcorn
  • 1 dozen cage-free eggs

It's ... a lot for us. Especially when I take into account all the produce already on hand! So I made a crustless quiche. They're simple enough to do and can easily adapt to incorporate pretty much any vegetables or cheese you like. Obviously, I used what I had on hand which included a partial bag of matchstick-cut carrots and a wrinkly bell pepper.


This is a very dense, very veggie quiche with the eggs there mostly as binder. If you prefer a more fluffy, eggy quiche then add more eggs. I like it just as it is -- a warm, cheesy slab of garden on a plate -- and it's a great way to get in some of your 5 (or 10!) a Day.


Summer's Bounty Crustless Quiche

Yield: 8

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 oz red onion, chopped
  • ½ oz garlic cloves, chopped
  • 10 oz chopped kale
  • 3 oz matchstick-cut carrots
  • 6 oz bell pepper, chopped
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 eggs
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • 4 oz semisoft cheese (havarti, etc), cut into pea-sized cubes
  • 1 tomato, sliced
  • 1 oz shredded Parmesan

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Oil 13X9 baking dish.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large French/Dutch oven at medium heat; cook and stir onion and garlic until garlic is fragrant. Add kale, carrots, peppers, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until kale is wilted and greatly reduced in volume. Spread across bottom of oiled baking dish.
  3. Whisk eggs and milk together in a bowl. Add cheese and egg mixture to baking dish. Gently mix everything together and top with sliced tomato. Scatter parmesan across top.
  4. Bake in the preheated oven until quiche is set in the middle and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Cool in dish for 5 minutes before slicing. Serve with fruit or dressed baby greens.